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Union announces three school community centers, adding to city's push

The United Federation of Teachers announced three more schools they will begin to transform into community hubs on Thursday, adding to the union’s and city’s efforts to provide additional services at more schools across the city.

The announcement from UFT President Michael Mulgrew comes two days after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city would use a $52 million grant to add health centers, job training and other services to 40 schools. Mulgrew, who has overseen the launch of over 20 community schools in the last three years, said both groups are working at their own school sites to speed up the city’s plan to create 100 of these schools by 2018.

“This is a lot of hard work, and we basically just said let the flowers bloom,” Mulgrew said. “Creating 100 community learning schools is a major task, and it’s not easy.”

The schools, P.S. 184 and P.S. 156 in Brownsville and Gotham Professional Arts Academy High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, will add services like medical or dental offices, though the organizations working with each school will help them determine what specific needs they have. The union has pointed to those services as key to improving schools in low-income neighborhoods, a vision the de Blasio administration shares.

Their push for community schools gained ground after Mulgrew and de Blasio toured a school with a similar model in Cincinnati, where city leaders took a decade to launch 52 community schools, in 2012. But de Blasio has said he wants the city to have nearly double that number in much less time.

“It’s like whoever can do this work, let’s just move, and move it quickly,” Mulgrew explained.

Mulgrew made the announcement at a construction kick-off for a school-based health and vision center at P.S. 188 in Coney Island. This summer, the school will start to transform its cafeteria into a $2 million health center, which will offer eye exams and glasses to students, as well as medical, dental and mental health services.

Peter Lopez, the site director at P.S. 188 for Lutheran Family Health Center who will oversee the school’s health services, said the continuity of services is crucial for students without access to regular health care.

“Whether they’re insured or not, they can come see the school-based providers,” he said.

P.S. 188 is the seventeenth city school Lutheran Family Health Center is working to transform into a community school. The facility will also serve students from other Coney Island schools.

Nedene Carby, a teacher at P.S. 156, one of the schools set to receive new services, said offering health services in the school shows the parents that the teachers are invested in more than just the students’ academic performance.

“Often times [students are] absent because they have a doctor’s appointment, and if it’s right here, we’ll be able to meet their needs, not just academically, but emotionally as well,” Carby said.

Even so, it is hard to tell whether having those services in schools improves students’ academic performance. Principals at New York’s community schools have said the services have not been provided for a long enough time to tell, and students’ test scores in Cincinnati have increased between one and three percentage points.

De Blasio said this week that he would not judge the schools’ success by test scores, but rather focus on attendance, student health, and parent engagement.

An earlier version of this story said P.S. 184, P.S. 156 and Gotham Academy Arts Professional High School would all receive health centers in their schools. Instead, they will establish their specific needs to decide what services to offer.

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